Economic Slump Doesn't Halt Growth at $1B America's First CU
Following a strategic planning session in 2005, America's First Credit Union-then boasting just above $600 million in assets-set a goal of reaching $1 billion within five years.
Virtually nobody expected the economic slump that would soon hit the CU's hometown of Birmingham, Ala., and the rest of the nation.
"We were probably like everyone else-we did not foresee the tough times," said David Adcock, president/CEO. "But in spite of the economy going flat, we continued to grow."
In January of this year, just one month past its goal, the credit union accomplished its mission.
"Providing such a long-term strategic goal created a focal point for our staff and board of directors over the five-year period," Adcock said. "It is very gratifying to be involved in developing such a plan and seeing it evolve and happen on the proposed schedule."
The plan to reach $1 billion was based on what the board and management considered a reasonable target of 10% growth and ROA between 0.85% and 1% each year. The credit union figured that would also allow it to maintain a strong 10% capital position.
"We felt we could achieve each of these objectives by focusing on our strengths-aggressive loan and deposit rates, low fees and great service," he said. "In order to make the formula work it was also necessary that we maintain tight control on operating expenses."
Until about six years ago, Birmingham was home to four super-regional banks, creating a great deal of competition for consumer banking business. That rivalry has been especially keen considering the market is just above one million people. Three of those four banks have now merged into huge nationwide or international banks. As a result, many consumers have transitioned to credit union membership, looking for a financial institution that remembers their name and relates to them as individuals.
America's First was established in 1936 to serve a small group of U.S. Steel employees. In fact, the CU started out so small that its assets were originally kept in a cigar box in the desk drawer of the plant manager. But it eventually grew to serve 1,200 SEGs before switching in 2005 to a community charter covering seven counties. That history has resulted in a very diverse membership drawn from many backgrounds and reflecting the entire metro community.
"That has been very good for our credit union," Adcock said. "During the economic decline we haven't been tied to one group. Going back to the origin of our credit union, if U.S. Steel shut down for a month, it would have devastated our members."
But that's not to say the credit union's members have emerged from the recent recession unscathed.
"Obviously the economic meltdown over the past few years has been difficult for our membership, and most every company has endured some type of hardship," Adcock said. "Having been formed during the Great Depression, economic hard times are not new to us. We take great pride in working with our members to keep them in their homes and cars during difficult times such as these."
The credit union also helps out members in another, small way. Each month, its member newsletter contains coupons from one or two of its benefit partners. For example, in the latest newsletter, Sam's Club offered members a $10 coupon to join or renew their Sam's Club membership.
If being an America's First member has its advantages, so does being an employee there. The magazine Business Alabama recently listed the credit union as one of the best companies to work for in the state based on the results of an employer survey on benefits, work environment, opportunities for promotion and other factors. Employees were also surveyed, and their anonymous responses accounted for 75% of a company's standing.
"The most gratifying part of the award was that employee opinions were given so much weight," Adcock said.
The credit union has also received positive attention from media outlets outside the state. An article in The New York Times mentioned its series of "banker confessions" TV commercials, which highlight the differences between banks and credit unions.
"Our advertising from Scout Branding was able to illustrate those differences in a humorous way," Adcock explained. "We were a little anxious about poking fun at our banker friends, but we felt we were doing such in such a light-hearted way it would be well-received. Who knows, we may shoot another series of 'banker confessions'-there's plenty of material to work with."
Adcock learned the difference between credit unions and other financial institutions early in his career. After graduating from Livingston University, now the University of West Alabama, he joined a finance company in 1971 as a management trainee.
"Although I enjoyed the challenges of the finance business, I did not feel I was a good fit for many of their business practices," Adcock said. "Since my father, grandfather and many of my relatives were steelworkers and loyal credit union members, I applied for a position at the credit union."
He was hired as a loan officer, then promoted to branch manager, vice president of consumer lending and vice president of branch operations. He became president/CEO in 1996.
Married with two adult children and two grandchildren, Adcock enjoys family time as well as hunting and fishing. He added, "I only picked up golf about 10 years ago, and I've been trying to make up for all the years I didn't play."